We are all aware of the tremendous sacrifices members of our military make to defend our country and our citizens. But we may not be aware that military spouses make incredible sacrifices as well. One of them may be their own careers as they frequently move, often to remote areas, in support of their spouses in the service.
The unemployment rate among military spouses is 23 percent. That’s shockingly high – especially when 85 percent say they want to or need to work. Many families depend on having two incomes, and military families are no exception. I’m pleased to see some employers increasingly looking for ways to attract them, using technology such as teleworking to enable military spouses to work remotely. There’s another option – becoming their own boss as entrepreneurs. Running your own business can be empowering. And it can be very adaptable to the highly mobile lifestyles military spouses often have.
I was honored to speak today at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation/Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Summit in Washington, D.C.
One panelist, Lakesha Cole, spoke about how entrepreneurship has empowered her. She owns an online boutique and subscription box for girls. She is also the founder of Milspousepreneur, which works to inspire other military spouses to build their own businesses. Cole is truly a role model, and I applaud her both for her own success and for sharing her strategies with others.
As head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, I am committed to helping more people have the tools and skills they need to be entrepreneurs, just like Cole. The SBA and its partners have loads of resources, both online and in communities across the country. It even has special outreach specifically geared to military spouses through a number of programs on military installations. Our Office of Veterans Business Development works with military spouses as well as with vets and service members.
In general, the SBA serves small businesses and entrepreneurs with what it calls “the three Cs” – capital, counseling and contracts. Each of those has special outreach for military spouses who may be interested in starting their own businesses:
Capital: The SBA has lending partners in communities all across the country that can provide get the capital necessary to start and grow a business. Military spouses are eligible for a break on fees associated with the most common loans, known as the 7(a), under the SBA Veterans Advantage program.
Counseling: Military spouses are encouraged to attend the SBA’s Boots to Business entrepreneurship training program on military installations around the world to get their businesses started while their spouse is serving. Lakesha Cole participated in Boots to Business while her family was stationed overseas and leveraged that knowledge to refine her strategy to grow her business. The SBA also partners with the Department of Defense to deliver quarterly webinars for aspiring military spouse entrepreneurs, and our SBA district offices and resource partners provide counseling and training. Military spouses are also eligible for training programs the SBA supports including VWISE and Bunker Labs EPIC. More information on these is available at https://www.sba.gov/milspouse.
Contracting: The SBA helps small businesses sell to the federal government. And it’s not just the big stuff like helicopters and aircraft carriers that the government is purchasing – it also buys mundane things like pencils. Uncle Sam is the world’s biggest purchaser of goods and services, and a lot of those are sold by small businesses. And since 91% of military spouses are women, they should know that the government has set a goal that at least 5% of its procurement contracts will go to women-owned small businesses.
As we look ahead, the SBA is working with the Department of Labor and Department of Defense to reduce barriers to business ownership and cross-state credentialing for military spouses. For example, if someone has a real estate license or a hairstylist’s license in one state, we want to make it easier to transition that to another state.
There are more than a million military spouses – 700, 000 married to someone on active duty and 400, 000 on reserve. That’s a lot of untapped potential! They have one very important thing in common – they are married to someone serving our country in uniform. But they have a wide diversity of talents, experiences and objectives of their own, and the SBA can help translate those into careers. We want military spouses to succeed and feel empowered. Small businesses don’t just support families and make our communities vibrant places to live, they contribute to our economic prosperity. And a thriving economy further strengthens the nation our military is working to defend.